A lawsuit filed by parents of a high school student-athlete denied eligibility for his senior year accuses the Minnesota State High School League of illegal discrimination by reason of a learning disability.
Attorney Justin Page of the Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Minnesota Disability Law Center will represent Deklin Goeden, a senior at Ashby High School, in a hearing Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court.
Under the MSHSL's Bylaw 110, student-athletes are allowed 12 consecutive semesters (six consecutive years) of eligibility beginning in seventh grade. Because he repeated seventh grade due to a learning disability, Goeden used up his eligibility and must sit out his senior year.
The suit, filed by Page in October, argues the league should "reasonably modify its eligibility rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act by removing the word consecutive in its eligibility rule" and allow Goeden to compete in sports this year.
Going into the current school year, Goeden had only competed in 11 semesters worth of activities. He competed in six wrestling seasons. As a junior last season he did not play football and his track and field season was canceled due to the coronavirus.
“I'm really upset that wanting to be good in school ended up in maybe destroying something else.”
The Goedens met with the league's eligibility committee on June 1 and again on June 17. At the latter meeting, the committee voted 3-2 against the family's request to play an additional semester.
"Hopefully, we will get the injunction and, in the process, make it easier for the next kid with a disability who needs an accommodation," Page said.
The Goedens said Deklin's learning disabilities make mathematics rationalization and reading comprehension a challenge. Andrea Goeden, Deklin's mother, said the family elected to have him repeat seventh grade because feedback from the school indicated he was "at a fifth-grade level versus being ready for eighth-grade."
The Goedens were unaware of Bylaw 110 at the time. They were not notified until December 2019 of Deklin's eligibility situation.
The family experienced frustration throughout the appeal process. Andrea said the league's bylaws are "hard to interpret and hard to follow." During an eligibility committee meeting, she said, league representatives "didn't make eye contact. One was looking at their cell phone. Another one was looking at their laptop."
Darren, Deklin's father, said, "They do not make it easy."
In April 2017, the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report citing deficiencies in league eligibility criteria and how it makes eligibility decisions. It also criticized the league's board of directors for what the report called insufficient oversight of the administration of student eligibility.
In response, the league began reviewing eligibility committee cases instead of requiring families to work through an independent hearing officer.
The review process began with the 2017-18 school year. Starting then and going through November 2020, the eligibility committee granted additional semesters in 17 cases, according to the high school league. Additional semesters were denied in 16 cases.
In November, the league's Representative Assembly changed the Bylaw 110 language in terms of the appeal process. Families are now allowed to start the process "when a student has experienced a substantial disruption to their education that is outside of the student's control and it is apparent that the student will exhaust their semesters of eligibility before graduation."
Wednesday also marks Gov. Tim Walz's expected announcement on what to do with winter sports, which have been on a four-week pause. Should Walz restart winter sports and spring sports are held, Deklin hopes to compete as well if a final semester of eligibility is allowed.
Deklin said, "I'm really upset that wanting to be good in school ended up in maybe destroying something else."